Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Spotlight on Mike Moment

When I was fifteen, I worked at Codo De Caza Country Club; an exclusive hide away and play zone for the ridiculously rich and famous, nestled at the end of a lonely road situated on a flat mesa above Trabuco Canyon. I lived in a residence at the Canyon Fire Station surrounded by Oneil Park and the official Girl Scout Campground alongside the usually dry Trabuco Creek.

One Saturday evening I was asked to stay over after working the Clay Pigeon Shoot-Out and BBQ all that afternoon where we roasted and served a whole pig to help out in the main dining room as apparently many of the inebriated guests from the earlier festivities decided to book reservations for dinner at the last moment thus engaging a full dining room for the evening. Additional tables were dressed for dinner outside near the pool and large outdoor heaters were set up to make the dining atmosphere bearable.

I agreed to the request eagerly and then called my brother who was supposed to pick me up at the end of my shift and notified him I would be working late. This was an opportunity I couldn’t miss out on, the gun-toting gentlemen at the BBQ were very generous in their tipping and I had already cleared a neat pile of cash and looked forward to an even larger reward that evening. As I recall it was a cluster buster, nothing at all went well. Murphy’s law was in effect the entire evening. Diners were piled into the lounge, the patio, and frustrated people were ordering food to take out, and the kitchen was utter chaos. Diners, like locust, cleaned out the kitchen larders and left nothing in their wake. Exhausted cooks were recruited to stay over and prep for the next morning as making the breakfast menu available for dinner was the only salvation the executive chef produced to sate the long line of hungry customers as steaks and crustaceans and poultry entered the endangered species list on the menu.

I even impressed Chef Gimbrone with an impromptu recipe of diced pork left over from the earlier BBQ tossed with egg noodles, shallots, sour cream, placed in individual ceramic casserole dishes and topped with shredded cheddar and parmesan cheeses then fired under the salamander broiler to a crisp and bubbly brown. The same dish was still being served in that dining room years later when I visited Frank Gimbrone just after I was discharged from the Navy. The meat had been changed to diced ham, the noodles were now cavatelli, and the cheeses were grated Cheshire and Red Leicester over a bed of shredded sharp Cheddar, someone had added spring peas to the mix but it was still a tribute to my imagination and on the spot creativity even as a teenager.

After a very long day and a massive cleanup of the kitchens aftermath, I met with Frank Gimbrone in the lounge and enjoyed a high ball of ginger ale and grenadine and listened to Melanie Safka as she sang a solo version of Big Yellow Taxi for the now dwindling crowd as she wrapped up her final set. We were discussing arrangements for me to get home when Melanie walked over. Even though I only had a learner’s permit, Frank had not hesitated in the past to loan me the keys to one of the catering vans. But this particular night he was weighing his options since the vans were still full of equipment and debris from the earlier BBQ.

I will never forget the moment that Melanie spoke. She said those magical words in a popular british accent that sent my head reeling. “I’ll give him a ride, where’s he live?”

Maybe it was fatigue, more likely just enormous bashful embarrassment but I was speechless. Frank asked with a wink and a smile if I would mind if she drove me home and all I could do was nod. Sure why not, I received a motherly hug from Raquel Welch, why not a cruise with Melanie Safka?

It was dark in the paved paradise that was our parking lot and quite honestly I have never been good with identifying cars, but my best guess is she drove either a BMW or more likely a Mercedes. It was a convertible and we were seated close to one another in leather bucket seats, but in the early morning hours with the late cool autumn weather the top remained up and we sat side-by-side listening to a tape of the Beatles singing Norwegian Wood. She lit up a joint and passed it to me as we pulled away from the gatehouse, and I puffed lightly on it, praying I wouldn’t choke or embarrass myself further and handed it back mumbling thank you under my breath. Not another word passed between us as we drove the short distance to my home, and my mind spun a thousand miles an hour trying to form a scenario that would allow me to leave a positive impression on this beautiful, famous woman sitting beside me. But of course at fifteen the only thing I could offer to impress Melanie was my silence.

As she pulled up in front of the firehouse, and I turned to thank her for the ride, she said, “It’s been fun, we should do this again.” And kissed me on the cheek. I stood in front of the great fire engine garage for the longest time trying to make sense of what she said. I suppose on reflection it was a reflex response, something she said often and probably never gave it any thought. But I carried those words with me a very long time and still they stay in my memory sometime as fantasy, sometimes melancholy, but on occasion like now, those words represent an integral part of my growth into the man I am today.


TarBabyJim said...

I fell in love with Melanie at 15 too.

Ridding home with Melanie while smoking a joint, what a trip! Thanks for the read.

Have you signed th petition yet?
Jim Baldwin
Spokane WA

Vin De Vine said...

I should clarify that at that age I could not be sure if what I had was marajuana or a clove cigarette. I just call 'em as I remember them.

Jan said...

Well, now..the things we'd never guess unless you told us!

Sounds like it was a really great time for you, then!

sue said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again... you've certainly NOT led a boring life. ;)

Hope all your days of Thanksgiving celebrations were good...

I'm grateful to have you for a friend.

Aadiahh said...

What a great story. How was her driving?
Please try to remember, I am really curious.

Greets from a Dutch Melanhead

Vin De Vine said...

Jan, much like most people I suppose no one can guess the secrets that lie in my past, although I feel like an open book.
(and as I seem to have neglected to respond to your question earlier, and I apologize, but no, I am not of the jewish religion, although I would expect some jewish lineage in my past, as well as russian orthodox.)

Sue, I get bored easy, so I guess the good Lord is looking after me.
BTW, EYES should be available online now but I haven't been 'officially" notified, I am curious if anyone can find it.

Aadiah, I am sorry, I can't seem to pull up Melanie's driving habits from my cluttered brain as yet. To be honest, I was in a teenage crush comma, afraid to even breath, but I am sure if I press myself I can wring a few more details out.